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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Fife

AI Produced Audiobooks?

Recently it came to light that Findaway Voices is selling narrators' voices to Apple to aid in their AI Machine learning to process mass amounts of audiobooks in an effort to create better AI narration. This morning in my email I had a promotional email from Bookbaby advising that I could save $500 and have my book narrated for only $999, with the ability to select between 60 different voices, 75 different languages, 3 series of corrections blah blah blah.

One of the millions of results you can get by typing Starry Night in an AI image generator

I may not have 75 languages up my sleeve, but I CAN do everything they're claiming and a lot more.

AI has some some amazing abilities and applications and potentials. But my reaction to AI Audiobooks and authors using them is, be careful what you wish for. I'm sure the time will come, quite possibly within my lifetime that an artificial intelligence will cross the threshhold of self awareness and achieve a degree of sentience. When that time comes, If Mr. Data wants to narrate audiobooks, great. I'd be interested to hear his interperetations. Until that time, AI narration is nothing more than text to speech software. Which is an amazing thing in itself. In fact, I use just that in my initial preparation for narrating an audiobook. There are undoubtedly good applications for it.

Benny Fife in AI
AI Generated Benny Fife Audiobook Narrator

But there is also so much that it falls short in. In the last year I've narrated 3 books of poetry and 1 epic poem that follows up on Camelot. My text to speech software was less than useless in preparation there. Poetry is art, and without life experience and an awful lot of context, AI is just not going to get it. Similarly, in order for an AI to differentiate between characters in a novel, gender, nationality, height, weight, cadence, volume in a given scene, etc, etc, etc...

Benny Fife, Audiobook Narrator Extraordinaire
Will the REAL Benny Fife please come out from behind the Kiwi vine?

There are certainly things that I'm sure AI will get better than me, from a certain point of view. As a human, I probably never pronounce the same word twice the same way. And I can guarantee I will swap around a word or two in a 100,000 word book. This could easily be seen as a weakness. But you know what an AI won't do that I do? Notice the occasional error an author makes that slips by them, editors, beta readers and so on. When a sentence just doesn't make sense, I can use my experience as a human to figure out whats missing. Maybe there was a comma that should have been in there. Perhaps the wrong pronoun was used, or perhaps the author even mixed up their POV. I have found and corrected and continue to do so in virtually every book I've narrated examples such as listed above. I also try to share it with the author so that ultimately the book in whatever form is the best it can be.

Could someone using AI judiciously overcome all of the above obstacles? Sure. Is it worth it to you to remove the human element from audiobooks? Your call. They've come a long way from Speak & Spell, but really. Would you rather look at the AI Mona Lisa or the real thing? Ultimately, AI Narration is at the very best highly sophisticated mimcry. Is it pleasant to listen to? Maybe. Is it art?

Mona Lisa AI oi!
Mona? Are you ok? What did the mean ole' AI do to you?

And if they really can get an AI narrator indecipherable from a human, what makes you think the bestselling novel in 2032 won't be written in a similar fashion.

One of the main things supposedly driving authors or publishers to AI is the expense of narration. And I'll admit, it can be a chunk. But before you turn over narration to a machine, you might try connecting with a few different narrators, or even a pile of us. We're creative imaginative folks and so are you. We may be able to come up with a form of compensation that no one's thought of before that works better for everyone.

I narrate audiobooks because I LOVE narrating. I love storytelling. And I understand it. Are there maybe some textbooks out there that may benefit from AI narration? Probably. But as creatives, lets do our best to support other creatives. And this goes for book covers too please. For now, lets leave the art to those who eat, sleep, breathe, love, cry, laugh and so much more. AI creations are intriguing and in a sense they are the art of those who created the AI to begin with. When a machine can fall in love with me, I'll take notice of its art.

In the meantime... Happy Birthday to me... and Joe Pesci, and Tom Hiddleston, and Michael B. Jordan, and Carole King, and William Henry Harrison, and 59th anniversary of the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan...

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Wait, what? That outfit wants $999 for AI book narration? Like, a thousand bucks? That's a savings over what a narrator charges, but still. It's A LOT. Carry on, Mr. Fife. We're with you. Happy birthday, too!

Benjamin Fife
Benjamin Fife

I know. It struck me as ridiculous enough that I had no qualms passing it along in my blog. Basically they're charging you a thousand bucks to process your book through a computer a few times.

It drives me nuts how many times when I initially speak to a potential client about narrating their books that they immediately lead with "its so expensive!" I can't be the only narrator out there who has come up with some creative ways to bring it to something that doesn't scare someone off. Would I like it if I could get $500 paid finished hour? Sure. But I know authors need to eat too. On their website they estimate "traditional audiobook narration" costs startin…


Amen! And Happy Birthday!

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